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Reactions to Shavendra ban exposes Sri Lankans’ political divide

Sri Lanka Army Chief Lt General Shavendra Silva visits soldiers in hospital/SL Army

ECONOMYNEXT – The ban imposed by the United States on Army Commander Lt General Shavendra Silva for alleged war crimes committed during the last days of the separatist conflict has got Sri Lankans talking and is showing how divided we are on fundamental issues of the conflict.

Needless to say, the government and the governing party has condemned the ban, and Minister for Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunewardena summoned the US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz and told her to reverse the decision.

Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa has joined the chorus. “Imposition of a travel ban on army commander Shavendra Silva and his immediate family is regrettable and unfortunate. He is one of the heroic field commanders who spearheaded the national effort to eradicate terrorism,” he said.

He also added: “All of us stand by him and his family at this hour of need. As a country, we shall always stand with the war heroes that brought about an end to 30 years of terrorism.”

It did not look like a studied response but one that had an eye on the upcoming elections.

He was slammed by many Twitterati who reminded him that people of the North and East supported him overwhelmingly in the Presidential elections.

Dharini Daluwatte tweeted “Seriously dude what the hell are you talking about. If this is your lame attempt at garnering Sinhala Buddhist votes I think you would be massively disappointed.”

USTPAC tweeted “The NorthEast #Tamils and Muslims who voted for you overwhelmingly will remember this hero-worshipping of a #WarCriminal next time you face election.”

At the same end of the spectrum, former Chief Minister of the Northern Province C V Wigneswaran is “wholeheartedly applauding” the decision of the US government and says it is an example for other countries to follow.

For him, the footage shown in the controversial Channel 4 documentary about the Sri Lankan conflict is proof enough.

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The former Supreme Court Judge also says that “all personnel who bear such clear allegations of criminal responsibility must have their cases heard at the International Criminal Court or any other venue competent to judge them.”

Bit-players such as Udaya Gammanpila got into the act as well. He said the US, a nation that slaughtered countless people by dropping nuclear weapons cannot call the Sri Lankan Army Chief a war criminal. “It is a joke,” he said.

Some Opposition MPs had some mischievous fun with the issue.

The ruling party in its presidential election campaign had been deeply opposed the US Millennium Challenge Compact, an aid agreement they painted as a conspiracy to take over land in Sri Lanka for military purposes during the election. It was the main plank in their campaign against the United National Party. But now the administration is moving towards signing the deal with the US expressing confidence that it will happen after parliamentary elections due in late April.

With that in mind, UNP MP Hirunika Premachandra decided to needle the government by saying “(the Shavendra ban) gives us the best opportunity to tear up the MCC agreement and throw it away.” (Colombo, February 17, 2020)

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